CS Radio: “Episode 32 – Winter Break as Grad Student”


It’s our fall finale! It’s the last day of classes at Penn and we’re here with one last episode for 2016.  Mylène and Michael are joined by Dr. Joseph Barber, Associate Director on the graduate students team.  Joseph talks about the ways that grad students can use their break not only to step away from their work, but prep for the spring semester and their job search.   We hope everyone has a safe and relaxing holiday season.  We’ll back for the second half of our second season in late January.  See you in 2017!  Enjoy!


Investment Banking vs Consulting – A Student Perspective

by Fiona Tang, WH MBA ’17 and Wharton Graduate Assistant

Investment Banking vs. Consulting – A Student Perspective
By: Fiona Tang

Investment banking and consulting are usually popular career choices after graduation because of their great training programs, brand names and wide range of exit opportunities. Having been fortunate enough to work at both McKinsey and Goldman Sachs, I would like to share some pros and cons of each industry from my perspective.

Compensation: Banking tends to be more lucrative

Base salaries are similar in banking and consulting, but the bonus varies significantly for each industry. In banking, the bonus received may be valued as much as 12 or 24 months of your base salary while in consulting the maximum bonus is probably 6 months of salary. There is generally a 20% – 40% pay difference between banking and consulting at all position levels. Exit opportunities are also more lucrative after banking positions compared to consulting roles.  Private equity and investment management positions pay a lot more than strategy roles in big corporations. If compensation is an important role in your decision making, banking might be a better option.

Job Security: Consulting is more secure

Job security in consulting is much less cyclical than banking. Regardless of good economic times or bad economic times, consulting firms continue hiring and minimize layoffs of junior staff. Investment banks, on the other hand, layoff more workers and enact hiring freezes during financial downturns. For example, this summer after I left Goldman Sachs, the Hong Kong office laid off 20 analysts and associates because the market isn’t doing well now.

Work Lifestyle: Unpredictable hours vs. Traveling

If you are looking for a 40 hour per week job, neither consulting or banking is ideal for you. The hours are LONG, generally 70-100 hours per week depending on your project or deal.  As you become more senior and gain more work experience, the hours can be shorter. But my manager at McKinsey and VP at Goldman both still send emails to their teams at 2am on occasion – the nature of the work illustrates banking and consulting will never be nine-to-five jobs.

The big difference is that consulting is intense during the week but in general doesn’t require you to work on the weekends. The hours are more predictable as you will be working on one specific project and it’s easier to manage and plan ahead.  The downside to consulting is endless traveling from Monday to Thursday. Trust me, waking up at 5am to catch a 7am flight to the client site on Monday is not fun.

Banking requires much less travel at junior level. However, the hours are less predictable as you don’t know when a deal will intensify or a pitch suddenly becomes live. As an analyst, you will be staffed on multiple deals and it’s difficult to predict your work hours or make plans in advance. During a live deal, working on the weekends is considered pretty normal.

Daily Work: PowerPoint or Excel?

Both bankers and consultants spend the majority of their time on Excel and PowerPoint. The key difference in banking is a focus on finance specifically and financial modeling in general. Junior bankers devote their time to studying the value of a company and its capital structure; junior consultants think about the strategy of a company and its organizational structure.

The life of a consultant is interesting because of the broad range of projects managed by a range of different partners. Every project and every client is different and the learning curve is quite steep in the first couple of years. However, sometimes I do struggle with limited opportunities to put ideas into practice – like junior bankers who put together endless pitch books for M&A deals that never happen.

Junior bankers’ work in some way is more process-driven.  During the first six months, you will generally have a steep learning curve. But afterwards, IPOs, pitch books and M&A transactions will have a standard process with a different twist for each deal. If you are passionate about finance, you might like it. Otherwise, the daily work can become a little repetitive. That being said, the training and deal exposure are definitely invaluable assets for your future recruiting. 

In terms of work culture, banking tends to be more tough. Bankers are not bad people – the nature of the work can simply be grueling though. A banker is usually staffed with a couple of deals simultaneously and when things become more active, it’s difficult for him or her to be patient when a junior banker asks certain questions.  You may feel “on edge” awaiting new work assignments that may come at any time which may result in having to pull an all-nighter again. Consultants are generally only staffed on one project at a time, which makes it a lot easier to manage the workload and plan ahead of time. Hence, in consulting, managers have more time to focus on individual team members’ development, team bonding events, etc.

Future Job Prospects:

Banking and consulting do have somewhat different exit opportunities and career trajectories. Most of my consulting friends shift to startups, private equity, corporate strategy, or technology after 2 years while my banking friends go to startups, private equity, investment management, technology or corporate M&A.  There is definitely some overlap given that the skillsets from banking and consulting are somewhat similar with a different focus. Consulting provides more training on strategy and big-picture thinking, which companies with corporate strategy roles or private equity operation roles might find very attractive. On the other hand, banking provides robust financial training and most finance-related jobs such as private equity and investment management find banking analysts good hires.

When choosing between consulting and banking, I would encourage you to think about where you see yourself in 2 years. If you know that you want to be in the finance world and work for a big private equity / hedge fund, banking would generally provide a better foundation.  If you would like a role as senior management of a Fortune 500 company or managing a startup, consulting might provide more fundamental training.  However, I definitely see some consultants switch to finance and bankers switch to strategy.  You are not restricted if you choose one option or the other. What I share above is merely general guidance on the skillsets you would gain after 2 years and what companies are looking for from ex-bankers and ex-consultants.

Banking and consulting both provide excellent training and you will be working with talented and driven individuals. Whatever you choose, you can have a great career and I hope this provides general insight for the lifestyle of banking compared to consulting.


Illustrating Career Readiness Competencies: Part II

Dr. Joseph Barber

Employers value candidates who have developed career readiness competencies throughout their diverse academic experiences. Graduate students and postdocs in particular should aim to incorporate those transferable skill sets into their professional development so that they can be seen as more than just researchers and teachers. More than that, they need to be able to provide tangible illustrations of such skills and competencies in action to convince future employers that they are qualified for professional roles.

In a previous post I introduced the seven career readiness competencies we are developing at the University of Pennsylvania, based on the original National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) competencies. I also gave examples of some of the ways that the first three competencies could be illustrated. In this post I will focus on the other competencies from the list we are using at Penn: teamwork and collaboration, leadership and project management, professionalism and work ethic, and career management.

Teamwork and collaboration. Don’t be fooled — it is actually quite easy to be on a team. Indeed, sometimes it is so easy that you can find yourself on a team, a committee or a collaborative research project when you don’t even want to be. Teamwork is more than just participating on a team, however. It is about being able to effectively deal with all of the chaos that comes from a group of individuals with their own ideas, approaches, experiences, knowledge, egos, quirks and associated bad habits that is trying to work together with a mostly common goal in mind. Teamwork is about developing and managing relationships, negotiating conflicting ideas and uneven workloads, and self-advocating for your own role, ideas and results. Simply stating “worked on a team” or “participated in a team project” on a résumé or in a cover letter doesn’t illustrate any of the most important teamwork skills.

Not all team experiences are pleasant, but each one can be a learning experience that can help you anticipate future challenges and hopefully address them more effectively. Think about the last team-based experience you had and try to list all of the different roles you played within that team (leader, motivator, scheduler, conflict resolver, devil’s advocate, etc.). Think about the challenges that made that team experience complex and stress inducing. Then think about how you helped to overcome these challenges. Tell people why you enjoyed the experience, if you did. Tell them how you know your role was essential to the team’s success. Show them how flexible an employee you can be by illustrating the different types of professional working relationships you established with a wide diversity of people.

Leadership and project management. Certain industries, like consulting, put a lot of focus on leadership skills when they list desired experience in job descriptions. But the employer survey results that NACE collected in the development of their career readiness competencies show that leadership is not always seen as a vital trait. After all, most entry-level positions suitable for Ph.D. students or postdocs are generally not positioned as leadership roles — those roles come later on in the normal career trajectory.

That can be a relief to many students and postdocs, because some academic experiences may not feel like they offer many opportunities to be leaders — although that depends on how you define leadership. You don’t have to be called a leader, or be in a leadership role, to demonstrate leadership qualities. If you have ever changed someone’s mind or their perspective about an issue, you have demonstrated leadership qualities. If you have convinced other people to get involved in a project or program even though there was disagreement and a lack of consensus, then that is leadership. If you have been able to help others use their natural skills and abilities when working on a project, then that is leadership. If you think of leadership as more of a state of mind, then there are always opportunities to describe this competency in action even within a purely research setting.

That is not to say that seeking out actual leadership roles won’t be helpful. Serving as the vice president of a group on the campus run by students or postdocs can sound impressive. However, much like participating in a team, just listing a fancy-sounding title can feel a little empty if you can’t effectively demonstrate your skills in action. Be ready to tell a story about how you managed your emotions, and those of your colleagues, while working on a challenging project. Disappointment and negative results are a normal part of research; how did you overcome that? This part of the story is likely to be engaging to a future employer and represents a much more professional perspective of what leadership actually involves than merely listing leadership titles.

Professionalism and work ethic. Here is a list of common behaviors that I see from students on a regular basis that hint at a lack of professionalism:

  1. Setting up an appointment with an adviser and then not showing up on the day of the appointment.
  2. Registering for an event with no real intention of attending the event.
  3. Turning up 15 minutes late to an appointment, but not apologizing for being late or making any mention of it.
  4. Continuing to ask questions once an appointment has come to an end, despite the adviser standing up, opening the door and suggesting the next step of setting up a follow-up meeting to ask additional questions.
  5. Leaving a panel discussion 20 minutes into a 90-minute program

These are all relatively minor faux pas and can be easily addressed, but they can also be additive. Once a student or postdoc shows a consistent pattern of such unprofessional behaviors, people will find it harder to imagine them being able to present themselves professionally when it is much more important (like during a client-focused meeting).

When it comes to demonstrating this competency to future employers, you must do so through actions. I have seen an offer for an internship at a prestigious nongovernmental organization rescinded because the student’s tone was unnecessarily rude and dismissive in emails with an administrative assistant about finalizing the paperwork for the position.

If you want insight into what professional behavior looks like, spend more time talking to alumni in professional roles and asking them about their day-to-day work experiences and challenges. In fact, ask them what professional behavior looks like at their organization and actively listen to their reply so that you can model similar types of appropriate behavior. Respecting the time of your networking contacts, sending thank-you notes, choosing the appropriate tone for even informal communication, following up or showing up when you said you would — these are all great demonstrations of this competency in action.

Career management. Like leadership, the career management competency isn’t one that employers will ask about directly in job announcements, and it doesn’t rank as highly in the list of essential traits that they are looking for. But a good employer will hope that you can advocate for your own professional development and growth. In this way, if you do stay and grow within the organization, you will be able to contribute in meaningful ways at every point in your upward trajectory.

Whether or not career management is important from the employer’s perspective, it is always going to be essential to you — not just for the first position you are seeking but for every other position you will have throughout your professional life. The goal of “identifying and expressing skills, strengths, knowledge and experiences relevant to both the desired position and career goals, and identifying areas necessary for professional growth” can be achieved by working on developing all of the other career readiness competencies that I have been describing.

This won’t happen in a week or a month, but by working with career advisers, mentors, supervisors and your peers, you can continue to develop as a professional over time. Who doesn’t like lifelong learning? It sounds like something that most Ph.D. students and postdocs I know would, and should, willingly embrace.

Get Some (International) Perspective – Reflections from a Recent Experience Abroad

By: S. David Ross, Associate Director

I was fortunate enough to spend 8 days abroad on a recent business trip to Israel. As this was my first visit to the country, I knew there would be much to learn and process. After spending some time reflecting on my trip, I realized some of what I discovered (or was reminded) may be useful for those preparing for internships and full-time employment. Here are just a few observations:

The solutions to some of the most vexing domestic issues can be found abroad. During one of my meetings, I had the chance to speak with a principal at a local elementary school. I was curious to hear more about the school’s philosophy on educating students and how they achieved success. He was very candid and offered his opinion based on years of experience working in the country. Thinking about what he shared, I realized a similar approach may be helpful at some schools in the U.S. that have encountered challenges. Ultimately, this conversation reminded me that some of the answers to very challenging issues in the U.S. can be found abroad – so it’s important to take advantage of the chance to spend time abroad, visit different countries and learn as much as possible.

Perception can be significantly distorted by limited perspective. Prior to my trip, I revisited some articles written about the country from the perspective of individuals in the U.S. But I was quite curious to hear opinions from those who actually lived in the country. A few conversations with local citizens reminded me that perspectives can vary drastically on events and there is much value in hearing different viewpoints. What is especially great about visiting other countries is hearing firsthand accounts from those who lived through events others have read about in the past. Developing an appreciation for different viewpoints and appreciating the value of global mindset can be very helpful while working in companies or organizations and throughout your career.

While differences may be apparent, there may be more similarities than you expect. During a few conversations with other colleagues on the trip, a few people remarked how different cities and neighborhoods we visited reminded them of areas in the U.S. While it may be easy to focus on differences we see and observe, I was reminded that people’s lifestyles and experiences in other countries may have more in common with the U.S. than people realize or assume. Having the willingness to be open-minded and appreciate the similarities and differences of individuals you encounter will be helpful as you prepare for a global workforce.

Beating the System – the “Applicant Tracking System,” that is…

by Jamie Grant, C’98 GEd’99

Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATSs, are very popular among employers for the many ways such systems can ease the process of sifting through applications for candidates that are the best match.   If you’ve applied for a job in the last 3-5 years, you’ve most likely submitted information through an ATS, provided to your employer-of-choice by a software vendor like Taleo, Kenexa-Brassring, iCIMS or Peopleclick.  While recruiters and hiring managers still do certainly read through resumes and applications –and look at LinkedIn pages – you should be aware that you may need to “beat the system” to get a human being’s eyes on your online submission.

How do they work, you ask?  Google and watch one of the many videos available to see these programs in action from a recruiter’s perspective.  The main thing to understand?  These systems and the job descriptions within them (which I like to call “employer wish lists”) are designed to function by *keywords* – keywords which should ALSO be reflected in your resume to get you the highest possible match-score and the greatest chance of being seen by a person.   A talented career advisor can quickly go through your resume and job description with you and point out the keywords you have – and those you’re missing – in an effort to help you get as close as possible to a perfect match.  You can also use tools like Jobscan.co to quickly analyze your resume content and the job description.   Our friends at Jobscan also recently wrote a post about optimizing resumes for ATS that you might find helpful!  https://www.jobscan.co/blog/applicant-tracking-system-and-ats-systems/

You’ve worked so hard to get where you are – now, make sure you can sail through the last few hurdles to get your resume seen by the professionals who wrote you their wish lists – and that make the interview offers!